Recent big news in the tech sector has people considering what it means to work from home. Can you be more productive? Does that make it worthwhile for employers? What are they losing when employees are working offsite? The CEO of Yahoo, herself a new mom, made it clear that she is prioritizing onsite collaboration and face to face interaction when she declared last week that all work-at-home employees would be required to relocate to Yahoo offices beginning in June.
So what does this have to do with education or speech-language pathology? Many school-based employees don’t have any work-at-home options to consider. You are either at school with kids or you aren’t working.
My job is the perfect mix. It includes blazing through my paperwork during my work-at-home time, getting my kid-fix with time in the classroom when I’m onsite, and feeding my professional soul through my peer group at The Hello Foundation.
This is my fourth year providing speech-language services to public schools through an innovative service delivery model we call Distance Service. Designed to fill the need for SLPs in locations where there are no local options, I work closely with one or more speech-language pathology assistants (in Oregon we have licensed SLPAs).
This year, I travel 5-6 hours to my remote location and spend 4 days there about 9 times/school year – almost once a month. While onsite, I am BUSY! I complete evaluations, I spend time in classrooms, collaborating and consulting with teachers and paraprofessionals, meet with parents, and make myself as visible and available as possible.
In between visits, I work out of my home office planning therapy, supervising my SLPA via skype and regular meetings, attending meetings via Skype or conference call, complete all my written reports, and am available to staff by email, Skype, or phone.
Supporters of Mayers’ new policy argue that the higher productivity that comes with working from home is not worth the loss in creativity and craftsmanship. They suggest that you are sacrificing the ideas and concepts that bubble up through spontaneous interaction.
I don’t know much about being a tech worker in Silicon Valley, and my experience as a telecommuting blogger and editor is limited, but I do know that working as a school-based SLP can be very isolating. Even when you are working onsite in a school, you are likely the only one in a building who does what you do. “Spontaneous interaction” is not spontaneous and may only happen after many years in the same building.
I know that the non-traditional schedule I keep has costs for the school district I serve. They don’t have an SLP onsite every week. And I, maybe more than anyone else, know that is a loss. But because my SLPA is scheduled to meet all the service minutes, I have the flexibility when I am on site to be more present in classrooms, on the playground, and at the times and locations where our students are struggling. This actually makes me available to be more collaborative, more spontaneous than I ever was when I was wed to my weekly therapy schedule.
As unique as my assignment is, it is the group of specialists I work with through the Hello Foundation – themselves with assignments based locally and around the Northwest – that make the arrangement work.
Yahoo is a company in crisis, and Marissa Mayer is making a big change, turning her back on the practices that have allowed telecommuting to bloom over the last decade. While technology is not enabling Yahoo to be the company that Mayers wants it to be right now, that same technology just might be an answer for the special education crisis that exists in many rural and remote school districts – that of low quality or non-existent services for our neediest students.